The returning road to superhero movie glory for Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment has been quite the bumpy ride on a path that should have been smooth.
Three movies into their attempt to build a connected live-action movie universe with some of the world's most recognisable superheroes, a disturbing template is emerging.
First there's a fantastic trailer. Right before the film comes out, there's a deluge of bad mainstream reviews. Next there's a $100 million opening weekend. And then there's a massive drop in earnings the following week.
This can't be what Warner Bros./DC had in mind when they decided to use their characters to try to match Marvel Studios for superhero movie dominance. But instead of focusing on what superhero they have in their vaults that can put an end this trend, Warner Bros./DC should sit calm, knowing the hero they need is someone that walks through their offices all the time: Geoff Johns.
Johns, who was officially confirmed by Warner Bros. as the president of DC Entertainment last month, is connected to DC's original golden era of superhero movies, as he interned alongside original Superman director Richard Donner. Previously DC Comics' chief creative officer, he has overseen - if not written himself - some of DC's most popular story lines over the past 10 years (Green Lantern and the Flash to name a few).
DC Comics' current Rebirth era has Johns's comic-book DNA all over it, as he helped wash away the polarizing New 52 reboot and brought DC Comics back to its storytelling basics to much fan approval.
What Warner Bros./DC needs more than anything right now is a master storyteller. Zack Snyder's Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice were visually spectacular, but the words coming out of the characters could have been buffed up a little bit.
In Suicide Squad, Warner Bros./DC had director/writer David Ayer, the man who wrote Training Day. Ayer knows dialogue. His super-villain team had depth and heart, but Warner Bros. came in wielding scissors ready to lighten things up after the critical response to B v S, which explains why we got so little of Jared Leto's Joker in the film.
Perhaps you're reading this and are ready to pull your Green Lantern movie card. Yes, that movie was not a good look for superhero flicks. And given Johns was the writer for years in the Green Lantern comics when the movie arrived, you would think he could have had more of an effect. But do you really think Johns was able to influence the filming of Green Lantern, before Warner Bros. even knew they wanted to build a connected movie universe?
Warner Bros./DC has a lock on the hardcore DC fanboys. They're not going anywhere.
Those fans will flood early Thursday and Friday showings and get you to a $100 million opening. But superhero movie longevity has never been about just pleasing fanboys.
You've got to get the general public and their word of mouth involved as well for a superhero movie to have box office legs.
Johns can be the person who can help close the gap between hardcore fans and critics of DC movies. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of DC Comics and a penchant for comic book storytelling, but he can also oversee a good episode of television, as he's shown with CW's The Flash.
Johns is also no stranger to fixing DC icons. When DC Comics turned Green Lantern/Hal Jordan into an evil villain in the comics, alienating some fans in the process, Johns was the one to bring Jordan back to his heroic status, to much critical acclaim. During his time writing the Flash, his run with the Scarlet Speedster was highlighted by his fun use of the Flash's rouge's gallery of bad guys, which has had a strong influence on the success of The Flash television show on the CW.
For DC's Rebirth era which debuted this summer, Johns single issue Rebirth tale brought fans back with renewed hope for all things DC Comics after many left when the New 52 didn't work for them. There's no reason to think he can't work the same magic in a new medium.
Johns' era overseeing DC on film officially begins with his new promotion. He also got a writers credit on Patty Jenkins' upcoming Wonder Woman, and has said repeatedly he's working with Ben Affleck on a solo Batman movie.
If Warner Bros./DC is indeed looking to make more Superman movies with Henry Cavill, as has been rumored, Johns has written enough Superman stories to know what could work best for the character on the screen. Those are projects that potentially have the power to bring competitive balance to a superhero movie arms race that Marvel shouldn't be winning so easily.
The creative way to fix the DC Comics movie universe is a simple one: This is a job for ... Geoff Johns.